March 2010

I know that received wisdom states that the pace of the year quickens in the spring as the sap rises, the first spring bulbs raise their timid heads above the leaf litter of autumn that still bedecks the bare treed woodland, but… we birdwatchers should be forgiven for perhaps giving too much regret to the advance of the year. The British Isles probably have more migrants present in the winter than we do in the summer, and most of those are a lot easier to see, firstly because they are birds of open farmland, fields and estuaries, secondly because winter migrants are invariably much larger than our summer visitors and finally because even when they do try and had in trees, the distinct lack of foliage is a great help when you are trying to spot something smaller than your thumb against a bright sky at the top of a tree! Migration was never a mystery to our forebears (even Goldilocks on had three!); it was common knowledge that swallows and swifts spent the winter at the bottom of our ponds, lakes and meres and (this one I have never understood) Barnacle geese somehow sheltered from the worst excesses of our winter by hibernating in barnacles! Nope! I still don’t get it!

All those spring bulbs must resent the darkening of their native woodland floors as our deciduous forests burst forth into leaf; that is why they flower so early, they are trying for the best show they can achieve whilst they still have access to sunlight. If they left it too late then the trees would beat them to it and there would not be enough sunlight to illuminate a snowdrop, let alone those laggardly blue bells who leave it till the very last minute to strut their stuff! Don’t get me wrong, I love the sight of spring bulbs, violets and all those other harbingers of the coming summer. Down by St Just Creek the trees are covered in catkins and we saw some pussy willow down at Porthcurnick beach just before the end of February. Where we used to live up in Macclesfield (a lot further further north and at about 800 ft a lot higher) pussy willow was almost unknown before mid-April.

Another, sad harbinger of spring is road kill, badgers are moving groggily off to their summer sets (no, they aren’t all heading north for a holiday in Weston-super-mare!) on trails they have used for centuries and which sadly cross too many roads, sometimes with lethal consequences. I found myself wondering what a fatal impact with something as compact and muscular as a badger must do to a car. To be honest – I hope it’s very expensive! We were coming back from Philliegh the other night (yes, of course we had been to the pup why else would you go to Philliegh on a February night?) when we came across a badger trapped between us and two high Cornish hedges. We came to a halt, but the headlights were still putting him (Her? I guess they know, but then they need to know how to sex a badger a lot more than I do!). The animal wasn’t exactly panicked and went about looking for a way out. This involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, but eventually he walked up the road away from us and disappeared into a small copse by the roadside. We were able to watch this handsome beauty for quite a few minutes and felt so privileged to be able to see him on his way. I think there is space for us all, don’t you?

We were down on the beach between Pendower and Rosevine at the end of February. Saturday morning and the sun was shining through a little cumulus – fair-weather clouds if ever there were, but with one or two cirrus telegraphing the arrival of stronger winds from the continent. Down from the heavens drifted the clear squeal of a buzzard soaring high in the cerulean heavens. No, not one but five buzzards, several of them strutting their stuff and trying desperately to impress the ladies in their number. They stooped and soared, pirouetted and turned on their wing tips in such effortless style and grace. Slowly the thermal they were riding took them along the beach towards Pendower, but they were so high I am sure they could just as easily have drifted north to Ruan Lanihorne and off the peninsular into the Tregothnan woods. The scale of their world is so different to our own, and they ruled the skies, high, high above the petty attentions of crows, rooks and all those lesser birdies that make their lives so mundane at lower levels.

Anyway, spring and summer – bring it on, leaves and all! I hope you get to enjoy the quickening pace of our countryside – be a devil! Go for a walk!

Ian Bennett

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